When my mom died in 2018 after battling cancer for the third time, I began to wrestle with the question of why God let my mom die. However, what you probably don’t know is that just over two years later, in February 2021, my dad died, too. To understand the significance of the things I learned when my dad died, you need to know a bit about our relationship, so here it goes.
I Was Daddy’s Little Girl… Until I Wasn’t Anymore
For the sake of this blog post, I’m going to make this quick: I was daddy’s little girl until I was nine, and then everything changed. When my mom got cancer the first time, my dad “snapped.” We say “snapped” because we weren’t really sure what happened, and in his denial, my dad never went to the doctor to find out. But we were told it was some combination of drug-induced psychosis and bipolar disorder.
Growing up, I loved my dad so much. Out of him, my mom, and my sister, I was most like my dad. Our personalities were similar, and we had a unique bond. So, when he changed, I was heartbroken. The dad, who was once my favorite person, became the man I was afraid of yet required to spend time with because the court system failed us after my parents divorced.
The combination of drugs and his extremely unstable mental state was not a good one. Yet my sister and I still had visitations with him until we were old enough (and brave enough) to refuse. Once we finished high school, we moved across the country and never told him where we were going. He would message us on Facebook or reach out to my mom, but you could always tell he still wasn’t in a good place by the things he talked about. Unwilling to get help and a danger to himself and us, the relationship slowly faded away.
And Then My Mom Died
While I was in college, my dad didn’t have my phone number. So, when he would reach out once in a blue moon, it was always via my mom. And then my mom died. When my dad found out (I’m still not sure how), he reached out to my sister, who wasn’t interested in talking to him (understandably so). But something inside of me was. That little girl who once loved her dad wanted to know how he’d been. And for a year or so, I got to know, but then my dad died.
5 Things I Learned When My Dad Died
When my dad reached out in 2019, I stayed in contact with him. He was in a probationary program in Colorado and was sober and on medication. I never asked him what happened that got him in the program, but I know he spent some time in jail, and this was an opportunity to get his life back on track. He told me the medication he was taking was for Schizoaffective Disorder–a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar. It explained the voices he would hear that told him horrible things about us and why you never knew when he would “snap.” But on his medication, he sounded even. And I was excited, at least for that. He’d call me every Monday around the same time, and we’d talk and catch up, even if just for a few minutes.
But the thing about mental health medication, especially one strong enough to treat his condition, is that it makes you feel not like yourself. And my dad hated that. So after he completed his probationary program, he stopped taking his medication. He listened to the voices in his head, left the home where he was staying, and I stopped hearing from him. The next time I did, it wasn’t from him but about him. It would be the first of a few different calls from different hospitals until the final one, where they told me he had brain damage causing him to deteriorate quickly. My sister and I decided to put him on hospice care. Then, I only had a few more semi-coherent conversations with my dad before he passed away. Throughout all of this, here is what I learned.
1. Forgiveness Doesn’t Always Follow an Apology
I never received an apology from my dad. In fact, the past never really came up, and I decided to be ok with that. Sure, in a different situation, I would have loved to hear him say he was sorry for all of the things he did and the ways he hurt us. But he was never in a place to do that, and I decided that’s ok. I chose to forgive him anyway. He was sick and hurting and depressed, and there’s no need to make someone feel even worse when they are struggling. I never got an apology, but I did get a relationship, and I’d take that over an apology anyway.
2. Reconciliation is Possible, but It Might Not Look Like You Want it To
At one point, when my dad was in his probation program and we were talking regularly, I told my boyfriend that I’d like to visit my dad. This was huge for me because there was a time I would have been too afraid to see him. But knowing he was on medication and stable made me excited to think there could be reconciliation and possibly even a restored relationship. But not even a month after that conversation, my dad went off his meds, and everything went downhill. The type of reconciliation I wanted didn’t happen. But I did get to tell my dad I loved him before he got brain damage, so at least he knew that. And he told me he loved me, so I got to know that too. In some way, that’s what reconciliation is all about anyway.
3. Grace is Always the Best Option
Sure, I could have stayed angry at my dad. In fact, I was angry with him for a very long time. But when we reconnected, I realized grace was the best option. And when the doctors couldn’t figure out why he had brain damage and told me he was going to die, I was so glad I chose grace. I was so glad I chose forgiveness and that I chose to have a relationship with him, even without an apology. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. And I’m sure many people would say my dad didn’t deserve my grace, but I’m glad I gave it anyway.
4. You Aren’t Responsible for Other People’s Relationships
Once I realized my dad was sick and not going to get better, I told other family members about his condition. But they chose not to do anything about it. They chose not to reconcile or forgive or even say their goodbyes. I had to accept the fact that I’m not responsible for how other people handle the relationships in their lives. All I can do is what I think is right, which is why I FaceTimed my dad every week, up until the morning of the day he died. What other people choose to do or not do is up to them, and I can’t control that.
Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. And I’m sure many people would say my dad didn’t deserve my grace, but I’m glad I gave it anyway.
5. God is Good and Merciful
Growing up, my dad was a devout Christian. Before he “snapped,” he and my mom led worship at our church, hosted small groups and church gatherings, and taught me what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus. Yes, my dad did horrible things, some that I don’t even know of but can only imagine. But I also know God is good and merciful. I know the forgiveness I showed my dad, God showed him 10-fold; the grace I gave my dad, God gave him more. One of the main things I learned when my dad died is just how far God’s goodness and mercy go.
My Dad Died, but This Time I Didn’t Ask Why
When my mom died, I struggled with why God would let her. When my dad died, I was grateful. Grateful I got another chance to have a relationship with him and that I took it. Grateful there was restoration, reconciliation, and love between us, even if not for very long. Grateful I got to pray with him just weeks before he died. Grateful I was strong enough to choose grace and forgiveness. Grateful he knew I loved and forgave him. Grateful God’s grace and mercy could never fall short of my dad.